Mexico’s independence from Spain is partially a result of the work of Afro-Mexican revolutionary leader Vicente Ramon Guerrero Saldaña. He was born on August 9, 1783 in Tixtla–which is now Guerrero, named after him–to a father, Juan Pedro Guerrero, who was Afro-Mexican, and a mother, Guadalupe Saldaña, who was Indigenous. He spent his youth working as an “arriero,” a mule driver transporting goods for his father’s business.
It was during these travels that he learned of the fight for independence and became a supporter of the cause. When he refused to give a Spaniard his sword as a show of good will he famously said “La patria es primero.” It has now become the motto of Guerrero in his honor and is his most famous saying. His roots in the movement began when he enlisted in José María Morelos’s insurgent army of the southwest in December 1810. Five years later, Morelos was executed by the Spanish and Guerrero continued to lead his guerrilla forces against the Spanish until 1821 when they gained independence from Spain.
But his push for progress didn’t end there, when he became president in 1829 he formally abolished slavery in Mexico, except in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the south of the country. This revolutionary declaration led to his downfall and on February 14, 1831, Gurrerro was killed at the age of 39 in Cuilapam, Oaxaca.
Research has shown that his African roots were whitewashed in portraits which reflected racism from that time. Through the decades he’s been recognized for his contributions to the revolution as well as Mexico’s first Black Indigenous president. His hometown of Guerrero is now home to one of several Afro-Mexican communities and just this year “Black” became one of the official ethnicity options on Mexico’s census form. This recognition is major for the Black community as leaders like Guerrero are recognized for their work in Mexico’s history.